Disclaimers;

Buffy and crew belong to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy, and trust me, Joss, Buffy's much happier here than she would have been with ol' Beefstick Finn.   No money is changing hands here.  If you take pleasure in my efforts, that's my reward.

Author's Notes;

Props to me mate Tony McD for creating the marvelous Terra Australis Incognito, from whence this little effort of mine springs.  And thanks for the information and input, Tony.  You're a top bloke.

Cathy Freeman, who puts in an appearance in the following, is a real person and one worthy of praise.  The first aboriginal Australian to win Olympic Gold in an individual event, she has become a celebrity in her homeland and deservedly so.  To her, I dedicate my story.

Archives; You got Terra?  Go for it.

Feedback; Yes please.  Jim_D_Means@prodigy.net

Rating; PG-13

Summary;

Buffy and her extended family are in Sydney for the 2000 Summer Olympics.  But so is a rather nasty vampire, who is wreaking havoc in the Olympic village.

========

Terra Australis Incognito:

Let The Games Begin

Written By Kirayoshi

========

Chapter 1

The Land Down Under

"Broke bread with a man in Brussels

Who was six foot four and full of muscle.

I said, do you speak my language,

And he just smiled and gave me a vegamite sandwich.

He said, I come from the land down under,

Where women glow and men plunder.

Can't you hear, can't you hear that thunder?

You'd better run, you'd better take cover."

            --Men At Work

              "Land Down Under"

"This is your captain speaking," a friendly voice with just a trace of Australian inflection announced over the intercom.  Buffy, Giles and Joyce piqued their ears at the announcement.  "We're making our final descent into Sydney International Airport.  At this time we ask that you put up your tray tables and return your seats to their upright position.  We thank you for flying United Airlines Flight 922, and welcome you to Sydney, Australia, home of the 2000 Olympic Games."

Buffy didn't need an empathic link to sense the excitement in her flying companions.  The minute that she presented her mom and Giles with the airline tickets(first class all the way!) to Australia and the passes to the Sydney Olympics, it was practically all that Joyce could talk about.  Joyce wasn't sure that she'd be able to take the time away from her job at the Sunnydale Museum of Antiquities, but her boss was surprisingly amenible to her vacation.  It didn't hurt that Buffy dropped a large hint that Albert, their associate in Australia, wanted to speak to Joyce Summers about bringing samples of aboriginal artifacts to American museums.  With visions of Joyce landing a lucrative account for the museum dancing in his head, Joyce's boss was more than glad to let her attend the games.  And Giles was equally excited about the games, even if he maintained his stoic reserve at all times.  Don't ever change, Giles, Buffy thought, smiling to herself.

Buffy herself was thrilled, not only to see the events herself, but to be reunited with her 'soul family'.  That's how she learned to think of Willow Rosenberg and Xander Harris.  She had always been attracted to Willow, although it had taken several years for those feelings to blossom into love between them.  She also considered Xander to be one of her closest friends.  But then David McWray led them in a dreamtime ritual to prepare them for the War Of The Six, the final battle with the demon Murg Dor.  The dreamtime experience revealed that the three of them, Buffy, Willow and Xander, were bonded as soulmates.  The ritual furthered that bond by creating a strong empathic link that bordered on telepathy betweent the three of them, as well as spiritually implanting Willow with Buffy's and Xander's genetic material.  Willow was now pregnant, and the child would have three parents.  Three parents who loved each other, and their child, deeply.

As her happiness at the thought of seeing Willow and Xander increased, she could feel that same happiness eminating from her two soulmates.  Willow, Xander and Albert had arrived at Sydney International Airport, and were now waiting at Gate 17 for Buffy's flight.  Knowing that they wouldn't have long to wait now, their restless moods had given way to pleasant anticipation, which Buffy also felt and shared with them.

Within the half-hour, the plane had hit the runway, slowed to a coasting speed, and taxied to the loading bay.  Soon Buffy, Joyce and Giles were out of the gate, and in the concourse.

Almost as soon as Buffy had cleared the gate, she was swept up in an enourmous group hug by her two loves, and she relished the physical contact with them, hugging and kissing them both madly.  Finally, she signaled that they should let go, saying, "Uh, guys, oxygen becoming an issue."

Willow and Xander let go of Buffy, who glanced over her shoulder, and saw the bemused but accepting expression on her mother's face.  Buffy had not been wholly successful in explaining her new relationship with Willow and Xander to her mother over the week, but Joyce had accepted that her daughter had found happiness, which is all that mattered to her.  Seeing her now with her two closest friends, Joyce knew that her daugther was doing what was best for herself and the others.  The three of them were blessed to have found each other, and both Joyce and Giles could see that plain as day.

Willow went over to hug Giles, who, despite his reserved British exterior, returned the hug warmly, accepting a handshake from Albert at the same time.  "Hey, Mrs Summers," Xander greeted Joyce.  "Need some help with your bags?"  Without further preamble, he took her rolling case from her, as well as Buffy's carry-on bag, and he and Willow escorted the others to the baggage carousel.

"Welcome, pals and gals," Xander announced as they gathered their bags, "to the biggest party of 2000!"  Xander wasn't understating the event.  The Summer Olympics of 2000 had created a celebratory atmosphere throughout Australia, and Sydney, where the games were held, had become the epicenter of celebration.  Every restaurant, every club, every bar and hotel were expected to be booked solid for the games.

Fortunately, Albert had prepared for that eventuality when he made arrangements for Buffy and her extended family to see the games.  Two well-appointed suites at a nearby hotel had been reserved and paid for the duration of the games, one for Joyce and Giles and one for Buffy, Willow and Xander.  Each suite had two small bedrooms and a sitting room, both stocked with complimentary wet bars.  Of course, since Willow was pregnant, the suite she was sharing with Buffy and Xander would be serving non-alcoholic drinks only. 

As they walked out of the airport into the bright sunlit walkway, Xander turned to Buffy and announced, "We got a surprise, Buff.  A little gift from the Slayer's Council."  Willow grinned knowingly, as Buffy looked cautiously at Xander.  "Just wait here, I'll bring the van along."  He left the others and headed for the parking lot.  A few minutes later, a red Subaru Outback pulled up in front of the curb, Xander at the wheel.  Exiting the vehicle, Xander announced, "A gift from HMAS Creswell.  Toss the bags in the back, gang."

"Is this ours?" Buffy asked, admiring the minivan.

"All paid for," Xander announced happily.  "And check this out!" He pointed to the airbrushed writing on the passenger side door; "The Mystery Machine".  Buffy smiled broadly at the sight.  Perfect, she thought.  She was going to have to take driving lessons now anyway.  Albert looked puzzled at the words, and Willow promised that she'd explain the significance of the phrase later.

"Okay, gang," Xander announced as they loaded the Outback and he pulled away from the curb. "Welcome to Sydney!"

========

Four hours later, Buffy was standing in the main hallway of Captain's Cottage at HMAS Creswell.  She glanced at the high beamed ceilings, and gaped.  "Oh my," she breathed as she took her first look at her new home.

Two days after Buffy had returned to Sunnydale, Willow had called her.  The Australian Anti-Vampire squad, which Buffy, Willow and Xander were taking over after David McWray's death, had offered them use of Captain's Cottage, the commanding officer's residence on the base.  Buffy wasn't exactly overjoyed, having had negative experiences with military personnel in the past(Riley Finn, the Initiative).  Willow had exacted a promise from Buffy to consider living at Captain's Cottage.  She also e-mailed Buffy at her mother's place, uploading exterior and interior shots of the famous residence.  Buffy warmed to the images, especially when Willow commented on the size of their bedroom, and the possibilities therein.

Now, having seen the beautiful exterior of Captain's Cottage, surrounded by the incredible beauty of Creswell around them(not to mention coming face to face with a heard of kangaroos that hopped alongside their vehicle at one point), Buffy was blown away.  "My God," she breathed as the Mystery Machine pulled up to the front door.  "Stevenson Hall wasn't this big!"

Once they had arrived and brought their luggage in, Xander and Willow offered Buffy, Giles and Joyce the fifty-cent tour.  The ground floor was the formal dining and reception area, designed for the captain to entertain visiting VIPs.  Buffy gawked at the red cedar interior of the dining room, and the enormous windows that displayed the College, with the Captain's Beach and Jervis Bay beyond. 

She felt more comfortable in the second and third floors, which were essentially the residential area.  The second floor contained a spacious lounge, study, family dining room and entertainment rooms, while the third floor held the master bedroom, six bedrooms and three shared baths.  Buffy noticed that Willow and Xander had already started to make themselves at home in their rooms; the study contained Willow's computer, while the master bedroom had her wiccan supplies, as well as Buffy's footlocker, where she kept her vampire slaying paraphenalia.  Xander, of course, had unpacked his lava-lamp and collection of Babylon 5 collectable plates.

At the conclusion of the tour, Xander annouced, "If anyone wants a bath after your flight, help yourselves."

"Best offer I had all day," Joyce beamed at the offer.  Giles wholeheartedly agreed, while Buffy started to stretch her neck and back muscles.  "Good call, Xander," she agreed.  "I could do with a little loosening up.  Even first class seats get tiring after twenty-two hours."

"How about we meet at the residential dining room in two hours," Albert suggested.  "I'll have some dinner ready by then."

"Sounds good," Willow answered, "as long as Xander doesn't cook."

"I resemble that remark," Xander kidded the redhead.  "I'm not that bad, am I?"

"Xander," Willow looked straight into Xander's eyes, her dreaded 'resolve face' in place, "You are a wonderful man, with many excellent qualities.  But culinary skill ain't one of them."  She smiled at her soulmate and continued; "Trust me, Xander, there's no such thing as blackened lasagna."  Buffy had to smile as she heard that.

"Okay, so I ain't Martha Stewart!" Xander protested.  "Whom, I have it on good authority, after taping her show likes to sit down with a Hostess Ding Dong.  I'm not kidding."  Glancing at Buffy, he added, "At least I can remember to put sugar in my lemonade."

"Okay, it's settled," Buffy announced suddenly, breaking up the friendly feud and not wishing to relive the Lemonade Incident.  "We bathe, rest up, and meet for dinner at sixish."  Giles and Joyce nodded, and left for their rooms.  Buffy headed for the master bedroom, and located the ensuite bath.  An enourmous sunken tub dominated the bathroom.  Big enough for at least two, Buffy figured at first.  She grinned at the thought.  More likely three could fit in there easily if they got close.  She turned on the water, allowing the tub to fill while she peeled her clothes off.  Sitting for so long in the airline seat caused her shirt to stick to her back a little, and she was grateful for the opportunity to soak, and then put on some clean clothes.

Once the tub had filled, Buffy tested the water briefly with her toe.  She lowered herself gently, allowing first her legs, then her torso, then finally her chest, back and shoulders to acclimate to the hot water.  As she began to relax herself, she could sense the presence of her two soulmates.  "C'mon in, guys," she called out.  Xander and Willow walked into the bathroom, admiring Buffy's bathing form.  Buffy delighted in noticing that their gazes were filled with respect, love, and no small amount of sexual desire, but(especially in Xander's case, which surprised her no end) no adolescent ogling.

"I missed you guys, you know," Buffy said to her two soulmates.  Willow smiled warmly, as Xander answered; "Yeah, Buffster.  We missed you too."

"So, this is the new digs?"  Buffy relaxed further in the tub.  "I could so get used to it.  Of course, how do we explain our living arrangement to the rest of the unit?"

"We be honest with them," Willow said simply.  "They'll respect us more that way."

"Or if that doesn't work," Xander chimed in, "I'll tell them I'm gay."

Willow dimpled at Xander's joke.  "Just like 'Three's Company'!"  This brought a groan from Buffy.  "Please, Wills, don't bring that up!  Sorry, but the male lead from that show always reminded me to much of Ted!"

"Sorry, Buffy," Xander and Willow snickered, "Couldn't resist."

"Oh yeah?" Buffy started.  Willow suddenly caught a mischevious gleam in Buffy's eye, but it was too late for either of them.  Buffy calmly said, "Neither can I."  Then she cut through the water in front of her with a swift and powerful stroke of her hand.  The resulting wave drenched her two soulmates thoroughly.

Before they could react to Buffy's waterfighting tactics, Buffy stood up in the tub, revealing her nude body in all its splendor, the water glistening on her breasts in an enticing manner.  She took an astondished Willow in her left arm and kissed her completely, then wrapped her free arm around Xander's neck, bringing him into the group hug.  "What say you guys slip out of those wet clothes and join me in the tub?" she purred into their ears.

Buffy, Willow and Xander just barely made the dinner call two hours later.

========

"The Slayer's Council has been shaping up nicely," Giles stated over dinner, as the others tucked into generous plates of stir-fried shrimp and vegetables over rice.  "They're looking into leasing some downtown property for their headquarters, and we've already begun the process of importing some of our codices and other texts to a makeshift library facility.  Sam Zabuto's given me the names of some other Watchers who may be persuaded to leave the Watchers Council to join the Slayer's Council.  And Buffy's input has been invaluable."

"Thanks, Giles," Buffy dimpled at the compliment.  "One of the first things they did, guys, is abolish the Cruciamentum."  This news was met with murmurs of approval all around; Buffy and her family remembered all too well how the Watchers Council had forced Buffy to undergo this barbaric 'rite of passage' on her eighteenth birthday.  Giles had been ordered to inject Buffy with a muscle relaxant, weakening her to human-levels, while his superior Quentin Travers prepared to lock her in a room with an especially nasty vampire named Kralik.  The test had gone wrong, and Kralik's rampage threatened Joyce, but Buffy prevailed, and Giles didn't protest his being fired from the Council.  Indeed, his later research indicated that the Cruciamentum was designed not to test and strengthen Slayers, but to insure that they didn't survive long enough to reach their full potential.  To Giles, who believed that the Slayers were the last line between humanity and Hell, such indifference to the Slayers well-being was abhorant, and something that the new Slayer's Council would not tolerate.

"And with the international backing the Slayer's Council is receiving," Giles added, "any action against us from the Watchers Council will be dealt with severely.  I've even contacted Wesley Wyndam-Price in Los Angeles.  He said he may be interested in joining us, but still wants to keep his ties with Angel Investigations."

"Please, Rupert," Joyce interrupted.  "No talking shop at the dinner table.  Willow, Xander, how have you been doing in Australia?"

"Pretty good, Mrs. Summers," Willow answered.  "Getting settled here, and getting psyched for the games."

"Oh, and yesterday," Xander grinned as he spoke, and Buffy could feel Willow's chagrin; the redhead knew what was coming next, "Willow tried vegamite for the first time."

"Vega-what?" Joyce asked.  Buffy tried valiantly(and failed miserably) to hide a smirk, as the red in Willow's face began to rival her hair.

"Vegamite," Albert explained, "is a paste made from vegetable yeast extract that we Australians like on toast or bread.  A bit of an acquired taste, very high in your B vitamins."

"Not to mention high in salt," Willow winced at the memory of the taste; very bitter and salty.

"Didn't exactly go with her morning sickness," Xander added.  "She spent twenty minutes hugging the porcelain wishing well."  Willow pretended to swat him, chuckling.

"Yes, well we natives do know to spread it thinly, Willow," Albert answered, "not the way you Yanks spread peanut butter.  Actually, many pregnant women here tend to develop a craving for the stuff."

"Well," Willow answered, smilingly, "I'll stick to kosher pickles and rocky road ice cream."  The others laughed happily at her comment.  Even in a world of vampires, monsters and demons, the fact that they were able to bond together in this way, as a true family, was immensely gratifying.

"Actually," Albert said with a sly pride, "she has taken to Australia far better than she lets on."  Willow's face began to flush red as Albert continued to heap praise upon her.  "She has taken to her lessons very well."

"Lessons, Willow?" Joyce asked.

"She has been studying the ways of aboriginal magic," Albert explained.  "With her natural talent for magic, and her previous experience in entering the Dreamtime before, coupled with her innate goodness, she has proven herself quite adept."

"Hey," Xander leaned over to kiss Willow on the cheek, "that's my girl.  Well, one of two." he added, smiling at Buffy.

"And tomorrow, before we head for Sydney for the games," Albert said to Joyce, "I would like to discuss some business with you."

"The aboriginal art exhibits," Joyce answered.  "Yes, I look forward to it."

The six of them chatted merrily over dinner, and Xander couldn't help but notice a look that flashed between Joyce and Giles.  Willow felt Xander's emotions brush lightly against her own, and smiled back at her lifelong friend.  Buffy also felt the silent exchange, but was unsure what was going on between them.  Willow simply gave Buffy a smile that said, "We'll explain later."

In his last message to Xander, David McWray had asked him to look after his father, Rupert Giles.  He also broadly suggested that Giles displayed an attraction to Joyce Summers.  While Buffy was gone for the last week, Xander and Willow spoke about David's observations, and decided that once Giles and Joyce were in Australia with them, a little judicious matchmaking was in order.  All they had to do was let Buffy in on the scam.

All in all, they decided, it was going to be an interesting couple of weeks.

Chapter 2

Runner

"Through the night,

Through the dawn

Behind you another runner is born.

Don't look back,

You've been there,

See the mist as your breath hits the air,

And it's underneath the moonlight, passing some,

Till your heart beats in the moonlight like a drum.

And you will run your time

A shooting star across the sky

And you will surely cross that line.

So pass on the flame."

            --Manfred Mann's Earth Band

              "Runner"

"I had worked with Willow on a possible presentation," Albert said as he and Joyce sat at the dinner table in her hotel suite.  "I showed her photos of the artifacts I wanted you and your employers at the museum to see, and Willow was able to scan them into her computer and, what was that term she used, ah yes, 'burned' them onto this CD."  He showed her the disc, and Joyce whistled quietly at the accomplishment.  "Quite a remarkable young  woman, that Miss Rosenberg."

Joyce chuckled lightly.  "Hey, she survived being Buffy's best friend, she can pretty much handle anything."  Albert said nothing, but only arched an eyebrow, reminding Joyce of Mister Spock.  He then smirked slightly, breaking the illusion.

"Have you spoken with your daughter since arriving in Sydney, Miss Summers?" His eyes were alight with a knowing pleasure.

Joyce pursed her lips slightly, as she answered.  "Well, yes, but probably not in any real

mother-daughter sense.  I guess I was thrown by Buffy's new relationship with her friends, not to mention her moving half a planet away."

Albert chuckled, understanding.  "Not a pleasant prospect to be seperated from your family by such a distance, is it?"

"No, my friend, it isn't," Joyce confessed.  "But not long ago, Buffy and I were thousands of miles apart even if we were in the same room.  She--you know about Slayers, right?"

Albert now laughed wholeheartedly.  "I'm a bloody Watcher, I'd bloody well better!  And from what I have witnessed, your daugter is the best."

"Thank you," Joyce blushed slightly.  "Anyway, she'd kept that secret from me for two years or so, but when I actually saw her shove a stake into someone's chest," she shuddered at the memory, "then watch her victim turn into a pile of ash, well, I didn't take it very well at first."

"I can understand your concern, Mrs. Summers.  A less stalwart soul might have gone mad at the sight."

"Believe me," she ruefully sipped her coffee as she recalled her reaction to Buffy's secret, "I did for a few minutes.  Just long enough to kick her out of the house, to nearly lose her for good."  She placed her coffee cup back on the table, and said, "Never again.  Xander and Willow are good for her, I can see that now.  I'll be having dinner with them tonight, and I'll tell them then.  I may not understand this relationship of theirs, but she will always have my unconditional support."

Albert chuckled silently, nodding his head.  "A wise policy, Mrs. Summers.  Do not worry, my friend.  From what David had written to me before he died, I suspect that these three will achieve great things together."

"As long as she's happy," Joyce smiled, "then I'll be happy for her.  Now then, let's discuss which items you particulary wanted me to show the museum..."

========

They sat at a sidewalk cafe in downtown Sydney, Xander sporting a black baseball cap with the Sydney games logo embroidered on the front, Buffy wearing a t-shirt with a cartoon picture of Millie the Echidna, Oly the Kookabura and Syd the Platypus, the mascots of the games, and Willow cuddling with the stuffed Oly that Buffy had bought for her.  What Willow and Xander had suggested just seconds ago had Buffy's head spinning. "You're kidding, right?" Buffy asked her two soulmates as they sipped their mochas, but peering into their hearts through the empathic bond they shared, she already had her answer.  They were not kidding.

"Look, Buffy," Xander explained.  "The last message I got from David, he asked me to look after Giles, and pointed out that the man's sweet on your mom.  And band candy issues aside, those two have gotten past that whole 'you stole my daughter from me' thing they had in your senior year."

"Besides," Willow observed, "Giles is practically your father in every way that matters, except for genetics, why not set him up with your mom?"

"I dunno," she answered defensively, her eyes trailing toward the throng of people milling the streets.  With the opening ceremonies for the Olympic Games just a little over twenty-four hours away, excitement in Australia, and especially in Sydney had built to a fever pitch.  It was easy to stare at the mass of humanity, both native to Australia and from around the world, who came to see the world compete.

"It's just that Giles, well, he's always been part of my life.  My Slayerness.  One of us, one of the Scoobs.  Even if he doesn't like that title very much.  Having him hook up with Mom'll change that dynamic.  Like he's become something different."

Xander took her hand in his, delighting in how their emotional bond seemed to strengthen with that touch.  "News flash, Miss 'I-have-sex-with-two-people', we're all different now.  New rules, new roles, new goals.  He's gonna be shuttling between Sydney and Sunnydale a lot, keeping the Slayers Council going, and he's not gonna have us around as much.  And with you being away from your mom, it just makes sense that they should find each other."

"Hey, consider the plusses," added the redhead, taking another swig of what Buffy once called 'more sugar than the human body can withstand'.  "He's about your mom's age.  He's smart.  He's not a hardship to look at.  There is a spark between the two of them, or else the band candy wouldn't have affected them the way it did.  Plus, and this is a biggie, he's not a psychotic sexist robot!"

"Good points," conceded Buffy.  "Especially that last one.  Okay, so if we're gonna play yente for these two, how do we go about it?"

"I say just have them sit next to each other, or arrange for them to have some quality time alone, and let nature take its course," suggested Xander. "With the games starting tomorrow, we'll have plenty of opportunities."
Buffy sighed, resigned to the plans of her soulmates.  "Okay, count me in.  If it makes Mom happy, that's enough for me."  She noticed a tall figure in a blue shirt walking toward them, and signaled mentally to the others to table the conversation.

"Hello, all," Giles greeted the three, who smiled back at the Watcher.  "So, what are we scheming about?"

"Scheming, Giles?" Buffy looked at her Watcher with a practiced air of nonchalance.  "Total lack of scheming here."

"Just reflecting on recent events," Xander added.  "Y'know, life, the universe and all that."

"Forty-two," Giles stifled a grin.  Xander and Willow chuckled knowingly, but Buffy looked lost.  "We'll explain later," he added to Buffy.

"You chat with Mom recently, Giles?" Buffy asked.  "She's been acting kinda odd around me."
"I spoke with her at breakfast, just before she left to speak with Albert," Giles answered, as he flagged down a waitress and requested a cup of Earl Grey.  "She seems to be adjusting to Trinity, your move, all those things.  She said she wanted to talk to you about that later tonight."

"Glad to hear that," Buffy sipped her latte as she spoke.  "I've been worried about her, about how she's been taking the way things are between Willow, Xander and me."

Giles nodded as Buffy aired her concerns.  "I can't say that it's been easy for her.  She was relatively calm about your relationship with Willow, but most parents would be nonplussed about their daughter entering a polyamorous relationship."

"Gee, when you say it that way, it doesn't sound that good to me either," Willow commented.  "Still, it's all new to us as well.  I mean, who could have known that the three of us would be soulmates, or even have a child together?"

"Murg Dor, for one," answered Xander calmly.

Buffy and Willow turned to their companion, surprised at his insight.  "Consider it, gals," Xander continued.  "What's the first thing Murg Dor did when he blew into Sunnydale?"

Buffy winced as she remembered.  "He hit us with that hate spell that turned Will and me

against you."

"Right," Xander said.  "At first we thought that Murg Dor was trying to just break up the gang, to rob Buffy of her support system.  But if that was the case, why didn't he just cast the spell on Willow and me, turning us against her?  I think he knew about Trinity, and by eliminating any one of us, he would have won his goal.  No trinity, no baby.  Remember, that was his final target during the War of the Six."

"But why make you the target in particular, Xander?" asked Giles.

"Because Willow and I were already established, and Xander was the odd one out," Buffy answered.  "It was easier to turn us against him, because that link was not yet established."  She took Xander's hand in her own, and added, "Now that we have that link, there's nothing that'll break this act up." 

Xander grinned broadly, then turned and kissed Buffy on the nose.  "You're such a neat lady," he laughed happily, eliciting grins from the other three.  Finishing his latte, Xander fished some money out of his pocket and dropped it on the table.  "This one's on me, gang," he assured them as he glanced at Buffy reaching for her purse.  "Now, we're supposed to pick up your mom and Albert, and plan our itinerary for tomorrow."

"As long as we make it in time for the opening ceremonies," Willow insisted.  Giles, Buffy and Xander agreed.  They planned to be there from start to finish.  Like Xander had pointed out a couple of days ago, Sydney was going to be World Party Central for the next two weeks or so.

And these three were ready to party.

========

Natasha Vulkavitch had been reprimanded by her coach for staying out after curfew, but she couldn't resist stepping out into the warm Australian night.  She normally could sleep through anything, under any circumstance short of a runaway train, but tonight was special.  In a few short hours, she would join her comrades in representing Russia in the games.  She had earlier inspected her bow for the umpteenth time, making sure that the bowstring was properly tightened.  She wasn't considered a favorite in women's archery this time around, but she still had high hopes to surprise her audience.  She knew she was capable of at least a bronze.

Abandoning sleep, she chose instead to stroll along the Olympic village, the area of the game site that she and her fellow atheletes would call home for the duration of their stay in Sydney, and meditate on the clear night sky.  She traced the constellations over her head, and tried to locate the Southern Cross, losing herself in the serenity of the evening stars.

Around her, throughout the rest of the village, the celebratory air of the rest of Sydney may have been muted down, but not silenced.  She had heard that the local stores had to restock their supply of free condoms for the athletes twice already.  This thought put a smile on Natasha's lips.  She had noted a few young men already around the village, some were even giving her the eye.  She had firmly resolved not to indulge in any such entanglements while she was still on her quest for Olympic gold.  After her final event, she mused, a wicked tingle going through her body at the thought, maybe...

Rough hands grabbed her from behind, and dragged her away from the lit walkways and toward darkness.  Before she could effectively struggle against her captor, she felt the needle-like punctures at the base of the throat.  She felt her blood being sucked out of her body.  Then she felt oblivion.

Before the sun rose on the Olympic complex, a squad of soldiers had removed the body from the village.  The Russian team would not know the final fate of archery champion Natasha Vulkavitch.  But someone already did.  Someone who had connections to people with connections to people who could handle this delicate matter.  The Australian military had already found two other corpses, similarly drained, and one of Australia's most prominent atheletes claimed to have seen the fiend responsible for the attacks.  The deaths were covered up, so as not to alarm the attendees of the games.  But steps were already being taken to prevent further such incidents.

========

The opening ceremonies were an incredible spectacle, and from their seats near the front(which Xander insisted on calling the 'fifty yard line'), Buffy and her family had a perfect view.  The Parade of Nations, featuring over 11,000 atheletes, a breathtaking show of Aboriginal rites, displays that illustrated the history of the continent, a two-thousand person marching band, and a vocal performance from Olivia Newton-John, which had Willow smiling hugely.  When Buffy noted the face-splitting grin, Willow answered "Hey, I loved 'Grease'!" 

One of the recurring themes of the ceremony was a recognition of Australia's aboriginal peoples, and reconciliation with them and the colonials who claimed the land from them.  The final act of the ceremonies, the lighting of the torch, was a fitting symbol of that spirit.  The final leg of the relay entered Stadium Australia, as Australian athlete Greg Norman passed the torch to Betty Cuthbert, who passed it to Dawn Fraser, who finally passed the torch to aboriginal native and Australia's best hope for a gold in these games, Cathy Freeman.  As Freeman stood amid the fountains and fireworks, lighting the Olympic Cauldron, her face appeared on the diamond-view screens, her jaw set in calm determination, her eyes alight with pride and purpose.  All in all, a triumphant end to a grand day.

As they joined the crowds filing out of the stadium, Xander, Buffy and Willow chatted animatedly about their favorite portions of the ceremonies, and what events they were particularly looking forward to in the coming games.  Giles and Joyce strolled behind them, no less excited than the younger three were for their calm and quiet. 

Once they filed into the Mystery Machine, Xander took the wheel, with Buffy riding shotgun and Willow in the back with Joyce and Giles(stratigically sitting on the side so Joyce and Giles were next to each other). "I don't know about the rest of you guys," Xander admitted to the others on their way back to the hotel, "but I'm way too wired to sleep tonight.  These next two weeks are gonna be incredible."

"I hear you there, Xan," Buffy agreed wholeheartedly from the shotgun seat.  "I'm not coming down for a long time."

"Same here," Willow added.  She then leaned forward and whispered in Xander's ear, "Besides, Buffy and I have plans once we get back to the hotel, and you definitely figure into them."  She nipped at Xander's earlobe with her teeth, just once, which was enough to give Xander the general idea of their 'plans'. 

It took a supreme act of will on Xander's part to not crash the SUV as he drove them back to the hotel.  Joyce and Giles just smiled knowingly, Joyce catching the sultry look on her daughter's face.  Yes, she decided, Buffy was complete now with these two friends and lovers.  She was fulfilled, and above all else, she was loved.  That's what mattered.

Xander considered a bawdy reply to Willow's veiled erotic promise, but was cut off by the chirping of his cellular phone.  He fished the phone out of the compartment next to the driver's side(he was still getting used to driving on the left side of the road), while keeping his other hand firmly on the wheel, and was able to answer the phone.  "Hello, Xander here," he announced. "Yes.  Just a sec."  He passed the phone to Buffy, saying, "Albert, Buff, he says it's important."

Buffy took the phone from Xander and greeted the caller.  After a few moments of nods and 'Uh-huhs', she said, "Okay, we'll be there tomorrow."  As she disconnected the line and returned the cel-phone to its compartment, Willow and Xander could sense the shift in her mood.  From exhuberant to serious, Slayer-serious, in a heartbeat.  "Wills, Xand-man" she announced, "I'm sorry, guys, but this just became a working vacation.  Albert wants us to meet with him at the hotel tomorrow, 9:00 a.m.  Apparently a vampire's gotten loose in the Olympic Village."

The announcement caused brief shudders among the other passengers, but, as Willow observed, "Hey, who ya gonna call?"

"According to Albert," Buffy continued, "it's just one vamp, but he's a tough one."

Willow's demeanor had turned as serious as the others.  "So, Buff, do we turn this rig around and do the slay thing?"

"I'm afraid that's not an option," Xander admitted.  "The way traffic is right now, we won't be able to get back to the Village tonight."
"Besides," Buffy answered, "Albert doesn't want us going in before the briefing tomorrow.  The Olympic Committee doesn't want us to go in without preparation."

"Makes sense," Giles conceded.  "A vampire scare at the start of the games could spell trouble."

"Yeah," Willow added.  "This isn't a small town like Sunnydale, we can't just rush in like normal."

Buffy and Xander nodded in agreement.  "Albert's met with a lieutenant Bodine from the Anti-Vamp Squad, so we'll hammer this out quick, then we can get back to the games."

========

"Lieutenant Bodine," Buffy shook the lieutenant's hand as she and her partners met with him in a conference room at the Sydney Sheraton.  "I'm Buffy Summers," the Slayer began her introductions, "this is Willow Rosenberg, Xander Harris, Albert Nameria and Rupert Giles."

"Glad to meet you," Bodine smiled as he and the others sat down.  "I hope you don't mind waiting for a few seconds, but we have a witness to one of the recent vampire attacks."

"A survivor?" Willow asked.  "How'd he manage that?"

"She," Bodine corrected Willow gently.  "And how's easy enough; she ran like Belial."

"It's what I do, Jake," a resonant voice answered from the door.  All heads turned, as a short Aboriginal woman walked into the room.  She was about Willow's height, and rather slim, and was wearing sweat pants and a runner's tank top.  Buffy noted the tattoo on her left shoulder that read 'Cos I'm Free'.  Nice motto.  Albert nodded at his kinswoman, as she eyed the others in the conference room.  Her eyes rested on the three younger people, a knowing smile forming on her face.  "So, you three must be the Trinity.  My cousin Jake, he told me about you when I told him about the vamp."

"Miss Summers, Miss Rosenberg, Mister Harris," Bodine announced, "meet our witness, Cathy Freeman."  Cathy nodded to the others, who's eyes widened at the name.

"We're honored, Miss Freeman," Xander said as he shook the athelete's hand.

"Indeed," Giles answered.  "We saw you at the opening ceremonies last night.  And we look forward to seeing you in the games."

"Thanks, mate, and call me Cathy," she answered as she sat down at the table.  "But if we can't stop this bloodsucker quick, we may not make it to my events.  Games Security's having the Devil's own time keeping a lid on our friend, and if word gets out--"  She left the sentence hanging, there was no need to finish it.

"So, Cathy," Buffy asked, "when did you see the vamp?"

"Two nights before the opening ceremonies," Cathy answered.  "Shortly after I arrived at the village.  I was taking a late night jog, to wind down, when I heard a ruckus near the entrance.  I ducked around to see what was up, when I saw him.  Big, nasty, face ridged, teeth bared, blood coming out of his mouth.  He had just shredded the throat of a mate, one of the Australian rowing team.  I ran quickly, and once I figured out what I'd seen, I contaced Jake Bodine, my cousin in the Anti-Vampire Squad.  He told me that the three of you were here at the Games, so we agreed to inform you."

"You did the right thing, Cathy," Xander said.  "Bodine, do you have anything on this new big bad?"

"Yeah, and it's not good news."  He pulled out a manilla folder, and placed it on the table in front of Buffy, Willow and Xander.  Buffy opened the folder, and the three of them looked at the enclosed newspaper clippings.  Headlines announced; "Austrian Strongman Expected to Win Gold", "Kurt Schwarzwold Makes Olympic Weightlifting Team", "Schwarzwold Sited For Steroid Use", and finally, "Disgraced Weightlifter Found Dead".

"Kurt Schwarzwold was considered one of the strongest men living today," Bodine explained.  "He was a shoe-in for the Austrian Olympic team, until he tested positive for steroids.  Apparently he had taken some strong muscle enhancers, and when he was caught, he was promptly disqualified from future competition.  Two weeks later, he disappeared."  Buffy fished out a photograph in the folder, one of a large, musclebound man lifting a huge barbell, the weights marked at 500 pounds.  Each.

"Oh my," Willow whistled.  "He's a big one."

"His body was found on a lonely street in Vienna," Bodine continued, "this throat bearing puncture marks.  The cause of his death was clearly a vampire attack, but was covered up in the press.  We had contacts in Austria who monitored his progress, to make sure he didn't rise from his grave.  When he did, we were alerted.  It seems that Schwarzwold, before he died, had a major mad on against the Olympic committee for stripping him of his chances to compete.  Now as a vampire, he can exact his revenge, one athelete at a time.

"His victims so far included two American male gymnasts, the Australian oarsman Cathy saw go down, and a Russian archer.  He seems to select his victims at random, but always atheletes, and always at or near the Village."

"But we can't take the risk that he won't start going after spectators," Buffy confirmed.  "Okay.  One newbie vampire, the three of us can take him down."

"I doubt it will be that simple, Buffy," Giles spoke up.  "Remember, he was remarkably strong to begin with, thanks to the steroids.  His already phenomenal strength, multiplied by his vampiric nature, would make him far stronger than the typical vampire."

"Okay, so we need a strategy," Xander said.  "He's been targeting atheletes, so I can go around the village in sweats or something, while Buffy and Willow sneak up behind him."

"No can do," Bodine answered.  "We suspect that Schwarzwold has gained access to the master lists of known atheletes playing the games."
"So I'll be the bait," Cathy offered, "while the three of you attack."

"I'm not comfortable with that idea either," Buffy said sharply.  "I don't want to endanger you, Cathy."  Buffy had read several newspaper articles on Cathy Freeman since she first moved to Australia.  She was aware that the Australian people had pinned their hopes for Olympic glory on Cathy Freeman's shoulders.  She seemed to be holding up well enough under the pressure, but Buffy didn't want to add another burden.  Especially since if anything had happened to one of Australia's most celebrated atheletes, Buffy and the others couldn't show their faces in Australia again.

"It is my choice, Buffy," Cathy answered, her voice calm, her jaw firm.  "I wish to help, if you will have me."

Willow looked at Cathy's features as she spoke, then turned to Xander, commenting, "I thought I had a good resolve face."

Cathy smiled at Willow.  "I'm an athelete, mate.  Resolve comes naturally to me."

Buffy laughed heartily, saying, "Very well, Cathy, welcome aboard.  Now then, people, let's take this beastie boy down."

Chapter Three;

Citius, Altius, Fortius

"Hey now,

You're an all star!

Get your game on,

Go play!

Hey now,

You're a rock star!

Get the show on,

Get paid!

All that glitters is gold,

Only shooting stars break the mold."

        --Smash Mouth

          "All Star"

Willow glossed over the screen as her fingers tapped over the computer's mouse.  At her

request Jake Bodine was able to grant her access to a computer with a cable modem, and

she was making full use of the internet connection.

When she first delved into magic in high school, her first mentor in the subject was a learned techno-pagan Jenny Calendar.  She had encouraged Willow's interest in computers as a tool of magic, unlike Giles who still regarded computers as a fad.  Since the time she worked with Jenny, Willow had located several sites on wicca, magic and other forms of esoterica, including a link to several prominent tomes of magic spells online.  She had found a few spells in the past that had helped the Scooby Gang, as well as a few minor glamours and other spells she enjoyed personally.  

She stopped her search suddenly, as a subheading on one site caught her eye.  "Physical

enhancement", it read.  She scanned the page further, hoping that it wasn't some kind of

sexual prowess spell.  She smiled when she read the details of the spell, and the list of

ingredients.  Nothing out of the ordinary, most of the ingredients could be easily found at any grocery store.  She had the page printed up, and snatched the paper.

"Buffy, Xander," she announced, as she rushed into her soulmate's hotel room.  "I found

something."  Buffy and Xander were going over a map of the Olympic village, planning their stragedy.  Xander had been absently rubbing the back of Buffy's neck, but turned his head toward the door as he sensed Willow's presense.  "What's up, Wills?" he greeted the other corner of their triangle.

"I found a spell that can give us an edge against Schwarzwold," she announced happily.

"Us?" Buffy quizzed Willow, her eyebrow arching slightly.  "I don't know if you should be on the frontline with Xander and me on this one."  Xander rolled his eyes, knowing that Willow wasn't going to like what she heard.  "I'm serious Willow," Buffy continued, "it's bad enough that Cathy Freeman's risking her life to help us catch Schwarzwold, but I'm not gonna let the woman I love in the line of fire, not while she's pregnant."

"And here comes the resolve face," Xander quipped under his breath.  Buffy just glared at

him.

"Don't worry, Xand," Willow commented.  "I know that Buffy tends to be a little over-

protective.  But that's one of the reasons I was looking for this spell.  You guys are going up against Super-Vamp here, what with the steroids he took before he was turned.  You're

gonna need some back up on this one.  And this spell will gives us an edge."  She showed

them the particulars, saying, "It's a physical augmetation spell, it will heighten our strength and speed for a period of one half-hour."

Buffy regarded the spell, her own understanding of magic limited to what she could sense

from Willow's mind.  But she had learned to trust Willow as she would herself.  "Half an

hour," she mused.  "I still don't like putting you or the baby in danger, Wills.  But you're right, the three of us can handle this faster than splitting the team.  Okay, Wills, how does the spell work?"  The three friends went to work, planning for the evening's attack.

========

"Forgive me, Joyce," Giles apologized as he met Joyce Summers at their seats in the

International Aquatic Centre.  "Held up slightly at the meeting."

"No problem," Joyce smiled sweetly as Giles took his seat.  She tended to mentally label

events like the meeting between Giles, her daughter and the others at the hotel as 'Slayer

business', and generally tried not to think of them too much.  "Anything interesting?"

"Yes," Giles commented quietly, wanting to assuage Joyce's doubts.  He noticed the tension lines that started to form on her face, and hoped to ease her concerns.  "A single threat, one that is being dealt with at this time."  He paused, then added, "Oh, and Buffy, Willow and Xander received Cathy Freeman's autograph on their game programs.  A pleasant woman, truth be told."

"You met Cathy Freeman?" Joyce asked, her eyebrows raised.  "I'm jealous."  As they

spoke, the men's swimmers were running the prelims for the hundred-yard backstroke, and

American Lenny Krayzelburg had beaten all comers in his round.

"Once this is over," Giles promised, "you'll have a chance to meet her yourself.  She is

cooperating with the anti-vampire squad, and they've struck a rapport."

Joyce's concerned look re-emerged at this announcement.  "I don't know about this," she

murmured.  "I mean, she's a national hero in these games.  If anything happens to her--"

"You forget," Giles commented, "your daughter is protecting her.  You can be very proud of your girl, she and the others won't let anything happen to her."

Joyce harrumphed slightly.  "You talk like a proud father."

"Merely her Watcher," Giles nodded.  "But I admit to a paternal pride in her.  Forgive me if I sound like I've been taking over your role as a parent."

"No, Giles," Joyce said calmly, smiling slightly.  "I'm glad you've been there for her."  Giles sat quietly with his companion for the afternoon, grateful for her understanding.

As they watched the swimmers, Joyce leaned toward Giles and said, "You realize that we are the target of a conspiracy."

"Eh?" Giles asked.  "Conspiracy, Joyce?"

Joyce shook her head in disbelief; how could a man as learned as Rupert Giles be so dense?  "Think about it, Rupert.  Buffy, Willow and Xander have been acting suspicious since we came to Sydney.  Setting us up with these tickets, arranging for us to be seated next to each other, trying to get us to talk about our lives over dinner.  Rupert Giles, our young ones are playing matchmaker."  

Giles turned sharply toward Joyce, his eyebrows arched.  "You mean--"  Joyce nodded. 

"You and me?"  Joyce nodded again, smiling broadly.  "Hmmph!  Cheeky."

"Oh?" Joyce started in mock indignation.  "And would that be such a bad thing?"

"Well, um," Giles suddenly felt quite on the spot, as Joyce's eyes bored into him.  "Now, it's not like that, I mean, you are a most desirable woman, I do not dispute that.  It's just that, uh, we've never really had any time alone together.  Unless you count that situation with Ethan Rayne's band candy."

"Ah yes," she smiled mysteriously, recalling their immature(but oh so pleasurable!) activities as they were under the influence of the enchanted chocolate.  "No, I don't suppose so.  But with Buffy and the others spending more time in Australia, perhaps the both of us might need the companionship."

Giles sat silently as he digested what his companion was saying.  "Mrs. Summers, are you

suggesting that we take our relationship to a more personal level?"

"Sounds like, doesn't it?"  She grinned mischieviously, and for the first time, Giles noticed

how Joyce's hair caught the ambient light around her, or how her eyes sparkled.  Or how,

despite her occasionally frayed exterior, she had been a pillar of strength and stability in

Buffy's life.  

"In that case," Giles nodded, "Joyce Summers, would you care to join me for dinner this

evening?"

Joyce smiled warmly, saying, "Rupert Giles, I would be honored."

As Joyce looked slyly toward the British librarian, Rupert Giles struggled mightily to maintain his stoic composure, when all he wanted to do was grin like an idiot.  He felt as though a new chapter was being written in the book of his life, and he looked forward to reading it.

========

It was a simple plan, but still one fraught with potential danger.  Cathy Freeman was the bait, so all she had to do was remain conspicuous within the Olympic village, waiting for Kurt Schwarzwold to make his move.  She was informed by Buffy and her colleagues that vampires, by their very nature, were significantly faster on their feet than the average human.

But so was Cathy Freeman, which is why she was here.

She was a sprinter, and could easily outdistance most people on foot for a few hundred

yards.  If the plan succeeded, she didn't need that much distance.  Just long enough to keep Kurt guessing, until the Slayer and her partners went on the offensive.

It had taken her a great deal of patience and effort to readily accept the existence of

vampires, but having witnessed Schwarzwold's vicious attack on one of her fellow

Australians was enough to convince her.  But she was able to take this information in stride at any rate.  Her Aboriginal heritage was closely rooted to the earth, to the deep mysteries of the world, to magic and wonder, the intangible things that most of humanity ignore or take for granted.  There was power within the world, all around us, that only a few people in this world understood.  George Lucas understood to a small degree; his Jedi Knights spoke of the Force, the energy field that bound the galaxy together.  

When she met Buffy Summers and her friends, she could sense that they were attuned, to

varying degrees, to that energy of life.  The redhead, Willow Rosenberg, especially seemed

able to sense it, to feel it around her, to manipulate it to some degree.  No, not manipulate,

that wasn't the word.  It was more like she allowed that force to flow into her, and reshape

itself to what was needed for the task.  Even the fellow Xander Harris, without any innate

magic within him, accepted its existence, and was comfortable around such forces.  Cathy

smiled inwardly; surely her native country was in good hands with people like these

protecting it.

Even if they were bloody Yanks, mentored by a Brit!

Her body tensed as she heard a footfall on the grass behind her.  A broken twig or

somesuch.  She calmly turned around, surreptitiously checking around her.  A sense of dread had interrupted her, forcing her to worry.  She held her stance, prepared to run toward the others at the first sign of trouble.

That sign came soon enough, as a hand brushed against her shoulder.  Fortunately, she was prepared for the attack, and had hit the ground as though pursued by demons.

She glanced behind her just long enough to regret it; the monster behind her was keeping

pace with her.  Forcing herself to face forward, Freeman ran harder than she had ever run in her life.  As she ran, she prayed that the others were there to spring the trap.

========

Five minutes earlier:

"Okay gang," Buffy said quietly as Xander and Willow stood at her side.  "Cathy's in

position, and no sign of our target."

"It's the suspense that gets me," Xander quipped, and although she wasn't looking at his face, Buffy could see the friendly smirk crease his face.  Willow agreed silently with Xander's comment; they didn't want to waste their spell, especially since it would only work for half an hour.  Time was a commodity they didn't wish to waste.

Suddenly Buffy tensed.  She lifted her head up, her ears and eyes awake and alert.  Xander

and Willow felt the faint tingling sensation as well, residually from the mental and emotional bond they shared.  "Spider sense?" Willow asked.

"Eey-yup," Buffy nodded.  "Okay, gang, it's showtime." 

Willow withdrew a small net satchel from her pocket, containing a blend of finely ground,

twice blest herbs.  She opened the satchell and pressed her thumb into the herbs, as Buffy

and Xander leaned forward.  Willow pressed her thumb against Buffy's forehead, then

Xander's, and finally her own.

Buffy whispered, "Citius."

Xander whispered, "Altius."

Willow whispered, "Fortius."

The surge of arcane energies hit their bodies simultaneously, and they knew that the spell had worked.  "Let's do it," Buffy announced.

The three of them waited, while Buffy kept a lookout.  It didn't take long; the vampire had

started chasing Cathy Freeman, who was leading him toward them, according to plan.  "Here she comes," Buffy said.  "Any...second...NOW!"

The spell that Willow had discovered was designed to be split between three people.  Each

said one word of the spell, which imparted the speaker with the skill that word meant.  Citius was Latin for 'faster', Altius meant 'higher' and Fortius meant 'stronger'.

Buffy sprinted toward Cathy, amazed at the speed she had attained.  She was easily able to

come between Schwarzwold and his prey.  "Yo, Kurt," she announced, "you should clean up between meals, you've got fruit punch mouth."  Kurt tried to lift a fist over Buffy's head, but from the Slayer's perspective, he appeared to be moving in slow motion.  She was able to unleash a flurry of devastating punches before the hulking monster could even react.

Schwarzwold was reeling back, trying to avoid the blond dynamo, when a second attack hit him.  A lean, lanky young man leapt high from a bush near him, arcing at fifteen feet above ground, before landing hard on the vampire's neck.  "Hoowah!" Xander shouted.  "Just call me Chow Yun Xander!"  Schwarzwold staggered back, swinging his arms around, desperate to club the bounding young man in front of him.  But Xander leapt and capered around him, staying out of his reach.  "Float like a butterfly, sting like a Scoob," he taunted his opponent.  "Whoa, he's hot today!  Can't lay a glove onUNGH!"  Unfortunately for Xander, his overconfidence had blinded him to Schwarzwold's relentless attack. And the vamp might have been insane, but he wasn't a fool.  He managed to time his swing to intercept Xander's jump, and succeeded in connecting with his torso, sending him flying into a wall.

"XANDER!" Willow shouted before launching herself at his assailant.  Buffy fought him back before he could finish Xander off, but Schwarzwold managed to stay clear of her arms, as he lurched toward Xander.  He pulled back his arm, preparing to clear Xander's head off with a single blow.

Two small arms suddenly wrapped themselves around his wrist, and pulled back with a

strength that belied their size.  Willow, straining with the strength of five men, grabbed

Schwarzwold's arm and pulled back hard, knocking him back to the ground.  "Stay away

from Xander, Fang!" she shouted, as Buffy took the initiative and jumped the giant, stake in hand, crouching over the prone vampire.  "Yeah, Freakozoid!" she added, "He's ours!"  With that he plunged the stake into Schwarzwold's heart, reducing him to ash in seconds.

Willow then rushed to Xander, with Buffy following behind, and carefully tended to his

injuries.  "Xander, you okay?  Anything broken?"

"A little tender in the back muscles," he admitted, wincing slightly as Willow prodded his

torso with gentle fingers.  "But I can still wiggle my toes," he lifted his leg slightly, "yeah,

nothing permanent."

"I'll call the medic," Cathy emerged from her hiding place, and gathered with the others to

help get Xander stabilized.  "I don't think it would be good to move him too much."

"Don't mind me," Xander groaned, "I've been hurt worse.  Just my manly pride got mangled."  Willow and Buffy sat next to Xander, keeping him comfortable while Cathy contacted the medic.

Both girls felt the residual pain that Xander was going through, and used the mental bond they shared to alleviate as much of his pain as they could.  "Don't worry, Xand," Buffy soothed.  "Once the medic's looked you over, you can look forward to some serious pampering."  Willow grinned broadly at Buffy's statement, and tossled Xander's hair.

"My heroes," Xander murmured, smiling through his pain.

"Well, look at it this way," Willow said, with an earthy overtone in her voice.  "Once the

medic's had a look at you, I've got some salve for any sprained muscles.  And then," she

leaned over and kissed him on his temple, "the three of us may make a hero sandwich."

"Oh man," Xander moaned quietly, "I don't know if I'll be that hungry."

"Uh, Xander," Buffy whispered, her lips trespassing close to Xander's ear, "I don't think that's what she meant."  Xander looked at his soulmates blankly for a few seconds, until the knowing gleam in their eyes clued him into their plans.  He pursed his lips in a tight O, then broke into a broad grin.  Yes, he mused, chuckling throatily, this was going to be an

interesting night.

========

September 25, 2000:

Five companions sat in the stands on a cool Australian night, caught up in the tension as

Cathy Freeman trailed the other runners halfway through the women's 400 meters.  "Come

on, Cathy," Buffy murmured with over 100,000 others, as she, Willow and Xander cheered their newfound friend on.  At the halfway mark, Cathy poured it on, emerging from the pack and taking the lead.  At the end of the final race, the PA announced that Cathy Freeman won the gold medal with a final time of 49:11 seconds.

Not that Buffy and the others could hear, as virtually every throat in the stadium was shouting itself hoarse with joy at Freeman's victory.  And Buffy and her family were shouting just as loudly.  An exciting race, culminating in a victory for Australia's most celebrated athelete.  The packed stadium erupted in roar after roar, after holding their collective breath for the length of the race.  As Cathy Freeman ran her victory lap, and then as she stood on the podium at the medal's ceremony, her smile was brighter than the Olympic cauldron itself.

Even amid the celebratory atmosphere that surrounded Freeman's medal, Buffy noticed the

easy closeness that now existed between her mother and Giles.  She reluctantly agreed with Xander and Willow that they were a good match, and made a mental note to wish them luck together once the games were over and they were on their way back to Sunnydale.  She glanced at Willow and Xander, who were also leaning closer to each other, and Xander motioned for her to join them in their happiness.  Buffy happily allowed herself to be taken into a warm three-person embrace.  

The peace and happiness that she now felt was a long time coming.  Long ago, she thought she had resigned herself to the fact that Slayers didn't get the white picket fence, two car garage and 2.5 children as a part of their lives.  And no, what she had now with Willow and Xander was certainly not considered the norm.  But it was enough for her.  She finally achieved a hard-won peace.  She had a family, a new life here in Australia, and for the first time in a long time, she had a future.

She didn't know what would happen tomorrow, maybe some Big Bad would cost her

everything she had strived for all these years.  But she no longer dreaded each night, she no longer felt the nightmares when she slept.  With her family beside her, she knew she was ready.

She smiled and held her loves closer, content to revel in today.

FINIS